Grief is a human emotion that everyone must deal with at some point in their lives. One of the things that make grief manageable is the fact that we understand everyone experiences it at some point in time, and so sympathies are offered that can help ease the pain of a lost loved one, or even a lost job or home. There are many different causes of grief in the world and knowing how to express your sympathies to a close friend or family member can mean the difference between them coping with their grief and getting over it, or drowning in depression without help.
If you find yourself in a position where you must console a family member or friend, take a few things into consideration before doing so. Was the thing or person lost very close to them? If so, saying things like, “Cheer up” and “It’ll get better” are not going to help console your friend. Instead, you should offer a hug and let them know you will be there if you are needed in any fashion, from a simple hug to talking about what has happened. The most important thing you can do is make sure that your help is given without being forced on the victim. The last thing anyone wants when they are feeling down about losing something is someone else smothering them with their condolences.
Good examples of condolence messages that are sent via card depend on the situation. If a loved one is lost, a simple message like, “There are no words that can ease the loss that you bear, but you should know that you are in our every thought and prayer.” It’s a small message that conveys your concern for the grieving while not being too sappy or pulling on the emotions to the extent of causing more harm than good.
Writing a condolence message or sympathy card is sometimes difficult for people, because we don’t know what to say exactly. Feeling uncomfortable and awkward, we may postpone the task and end up never writing the message and this may cause the bereaved feeling hurt, angry and even lead to weakening of relations or even loss of friendships.
It is very important to write some words of condolence and words of sympathy as it helps the person grieving and would let them know that their are people who care for them and are ready to walk them through this tough phase in their life. Generally if possible, a hand written sympathy card is the best way to go as it adds a more personal touch and conveys a feeling of closeness. You should also try to reveal your genuine feelings and thoughts and also keep it short and brief. It’s always nice to mention some fond memories you have of the deceased person. Ending the note also with a personalized touch like mentioning the recipients name helps and offering to help them out always good.
Remember, how you react to a grieving person will really help them along in the cycle of loss, so make sure you are available when you are needed, without being overbearing or sappy, which is something that could be viewed negatively from the person you are trying to console.
And few things to remember when writing condolences
- Handwrite your letter of sympathy, unless the person to whom you are writing is a business associate/client/supplier/etc. In any case, add at least a line or two of your own to any pre-printed card’s message.
- If a suicide, offer your sympathy as you would to any other bereaved family, but in this case, avoid the phrase “I was shocked to hear” about person’s death. Many survivors feel guilty, rejected, confused, and need to know that you are thinking of them. Don’t ask questions, dwell on the suicide, or speculate about how it could have been prevented; instead, talk about how the person touched your life, or share a fond memory, or express your sympathy for the bereaved’s pain.
- If a miscarriage or stillbirth: sympathize as you would for the death of any child. Avoid these distastefully common phrases lacking tact: “You already have two children–be grateful for what you have”; “This may have been nature’s way of taking care of something that wasn’t developing properly”; “You’re still young, you can try again”; or the worst, “Don’t feel too bad; after all, it isn’t as though you lost a child.”
- Reread your note as though you are the one receiving it. This will ensure that you write something appropriate and not something awkward, pitying, or tactless.
- • Responding to news of a separation or divorce: whether the person is “better off” or not, life changes involve losses for your friend, and therefore some acknowledgement of the difficult period of adjustment and a message of support may be welcome. If you know the person well enough and if appropriate, let the person know that you have confidence in their choices and their ability to move on.
- In the case of business associates or employees who have lost someone dear to them, write as you would for friends or relatives, although your note will be shorter and more formal. As you aren’t close to this person, it is enough to say that you are thinking about them at this time. Extend sympathy on behalf of the company, and convey condolences to other members of the person’s family.
- The death of a companion animal can be a devastating loss; whether you identify with the feelings or not, reaching out and expressing sympathy in a note is a loving, respectful gesture much appreciated.
- If you choose to use references to religion in your letter of condolence, be sensitive to the religious orientation of the bereaved. It would be most unusual, however, to offend anyone by offering your prayers as a personal act of love. Discrepancies of religious belief matter little if your effort to console is an authentic one and your espousal of beliefs is not strongly contrary to those of the bereaved.
- If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, your insights may be very helpful to the bereaved. In sharing your bereavement remember that each loss is unique. Share the experience, but don’t weigh or compare it with theirs. In our talks with bereaved persons, the well-intended phrase that most often angers is “I know (understand) exactly how you feel.” The bereaved is not interested in a discourse on your suffering. They are likely, however, to be grateful for your intimate understanding of the pain of loss and may find inspiration in seeing how you have coped. For example, “When Bobby died, for months I thought my life was over. Then one morning, I saw the sun streaming through the kitchen window and I was, again, glad to be alive.”
- On occasion the words of another may touch a sentiment that strikes a chord in your heart. By all means, use them–the purpose in writing a letter of condolence is to convey your sympathy as authentically and caringly as possible. If a poet’s words echo your own message, it is a gift.
It may seem surprising, but those in grief have also told us how inspiring and healing historic letters can be. Many of these historic letters nourish the spirit and have the potential to create a deeper realization of the universal nature of grief. Some of these letters touch our souls, lifting us out of unawareness and into awareness, out of pain and into gratitude. Although the letters have been written in the distant past, their expressions of sympathy may capture what you wish to convey.